Port to port and fort to fort

The twin de­lights of Land­guard at Felixs­towe and Har­wich Red­oute

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Lind­say Want

We didn’t mean to go to sea, or rather, cross the great Or­well and end up in Har­wich. But you know how it is – there you are, en­joy­ing a real breath of fresh air in the com­pany of stun­ning es­tu­ary views, sit­ting on the café ter­race at Felixs­towe’s Land­guard Point where an early Sun­day morn­ing cuppa comes with a gen­er­ous help­ing of ships. Then all of a sud­den, a spon­ta­neous some­thing or other puts a cat among the seag­ulls.

Land­guard’s im­pres­sive strong­hold al­ways makes an in­spir­ing ‘fort for the day’, with some­thing for ev­ery­one to ex­plore. In sum­mer, waves of wild­flower blues colour the banks by the moated en­trance and lin­nets sing out from the bram­ble bushes by the prac­tice gun em­place­ments. If you’re up with the lark, be­fore open­ing time, it’s an ideal op­por­tu­nity to wan­der the na­ture re­serve board­walks, binoc­u­lars in hand, then set­tle down to watch the world of yachts and colour­ful cargo freighters go by, or try to iden­tify the land­marks in the

Es­sex ter­ri­tory be­yond.

“Isn’t there an­other fort, over there some­where?” comes the ques­tion, as binoc­u­lars scan the Har­wich hori­zon. “Can’t see where,” comes the re­ply, “but

I bet this one might be hard to spot from across the wa­ter too.” Then, right on cue, an uniden­ti­fied yel­low blob bobs into view, com­ing ever closer, mak­ing a b-line for the beach. By the shin­gle shore­line, just me­tres from the café ta­ble and cof­fee cups, the bright alien craft stops on the lap­ping waves. It low­ers a ramp and vis­i­tors from the ‘other’ side step out on to the sand, some even wheel­ing bi­cy­cles. “Any more for Har­wich?” calls one of the crew en­tic­ingly. And with that, all plans for the day are blown asun­der. Mo­ments later, aboard the blonde bomb­shell aka the Har­wich Har­bour Foot Ferry, sights are set not just on the bold and blocky shapes of low-ly­ing Land­guard Fort as it sinks al­most sulk­ily into the shin­gle banks be­hind, but ahead to­wards St Ni­cholas’ sharp Vic­to­rian spire, the proud pair of light­houses and to an un­ex­pected foray into the Es­sex un­known.

A SEA­FAR­ING TOWN

Alight at Har­wich’s Ha’penny Pier and there’s cargo ships, cruise lin­ers and sea­far­ing his­tory as far as the eye, or the binoc­u­lars, can see. With Har­wich har­bour pro­vid­ing the best safe haven for large ships be­tween the Thames and the Hum­ber, and the Or­well and Stour of­fer­ing op­ti­mum in-routes for both traders and in­vaders, it’s no won­der Henry VIII thought a fort at Langer (Land­guard) Point to pro­tect the nav­i­ga­ble chan­nel a strate­gic ne­ces­sity. On the pier, orig­i­nally con­structed to wel­come great Vic­to­rian pad­dle-steam­ers and the coast’s first hol­i­day­mak­ers, it’s worth pop­ping in to the old ticket of­fice and wait­ing room, now a free mu­seum com­mem­o­rat­ing Har­wich’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the Mayflower, be­fore tak­ing the seafront route through town, past Navy Yard Wharf, where Henry and his an­ces­tors built their ‘Men of War’ and El­iz­a­bethans like Drake, Hawkins and Fro­bisher set sail for new worlds.

It’s hard to re­sist a quick climb up the High Light­house, home to a wire­less mu­seum and won­der­ful views. Down on the seafront green, the Low Light­house har­bours the mar­itime mu­seum, but from 1818 to 1863 the un­usual Vic­to­rian pair were ‘matched up’ by ship’s skip­pers to nav­i­gate the sand­banks. Set be­tween them both, a unique wooden tread­mill crane used in the ship­yards from 1667 un­til 1927, takes pride of place on the greensward, but where’s the fort?

Over in Har­wich, what you’re re­ally look­ing for is a ‘Re­doubt’. Land­guard’s got a sim­i­lar sort of

cir­cu­lar Napoleonic set-up, but it’s hid­ing in­side the bas­tioned walls of a pen­tagon. The south coast’s East­bourne and Dym­church have one, and there’s a cer­tain re­sem­blance be­tween these de­fen­sive 360° cover for­ti­fi­ca­tions and ‘Pitt’s Pork Pies’, the 104 Martello tow­ers built at the start of the 19th cen­tury when Bri­tain was at war with France.

‘Land­guard Fort is one mas­sive maze of bar­rack rooms and bat­ter­ies’

Fol­low the signs to an un­sus­pect­ing spot with prime views over the har­bour en­trance. Sur­rounded by a deep moat, Har­wich’s fort sits firmly em­bed­ded into a hill­top, brought back from the brink by an en­tirely vol­un­teer work­force. The first floor de­liv­ers views across the wa­ters and down into the great 60m di­am­e­ter cir­cle where 18 ‘case­mates’ once housed 300 sol­diers, their stores and am­mu­ni­tion. Be­low, the pa­rade ground has been put to grass, smartly clipped and well turned-out, like the grey build­ings and neatly painted rail­ings sur­round­ing it, but of the ten 24-pounder can­non which once graced the bat­tle­ments, just the Gil­bert Gun sits proudly back in place. “We think there are a cou­ple more in the moat,” shares a kindly gentle­man, “but we’ve been at it nearly 50 years and there’s still so much more to do.” He refers to the old bar­rack rooms that they’d like to fill with dis­plays, but there’s al­ready plenty to dis­cover from mar­itime by­gones to mil­i­tary mem­o­ra­bilia, not to men­tion the re­mark­able restora­tion story of a Napoleonic fort aban­doned in the 1920s, ‘re­dis­cov­ered’ and taken on by the Har­wich So­ci­ety in 1969 in re­put­edly the largest vol­un­teer-led restora­tion project of an an­cient mon­u­ment.

Later, back on the Suf­folk side, in com­par­i­son with Har­wich’s bite-size Re­doubt, Land­guard Fort is one mas­sive maze of bar­rack rooms and gun bat­ter­ies, mag­a­zine tun­nels and sub­ma­rine min­ing his­tory. Stair­ways and pas­sages lead­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion, through cav­ernous gun­pow­der stores and up to the King’s Bas­tion with its replica 38 ton muz­zle loaded gun. When the Har­wich fort was aban­doned, Felixs­towe con­tin­ued to adapt and serve, through­out World War II and into the Cold War pe­riod. From two block­houses in Henry VIII’s day to a for­mi­da­ble fort where 17th cen­tury pre­de­ces­sors of the Royal Marines de­feated the Dutch un­der Capt Dar­rell in the last op­posed in­va­sion of Eng­land, Land­guard Fort has al­ways built on its his­tory. Packed with fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pla­na­tions and ex­hibits, it’s a fort for a day out, but some­how only half the story.

LEFT: Land­guard FortRIGHT: Har­wich Re­doubt

Har­wich Har­bour Ferry makes its way across the es­tu­ary

Land­guard Fort’s tun­nels bris­tle with at­mos­phere

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